Welcome to Holywell Chess Club

  • Holywell Chess Club
  • Stamford Gate Hotel, Holywell

A History of Holywell Chess Club

by Max Coventry

First Beginnings

The club came into being as “Caerwys Chess Club” in the small town of Caerwys, not far from Holywell, in 1987. Syd Lillywhite lived in Caerwys - he was an exceptionally sociable and affable person, who quite late in life, developed a passion for chess. Syd drew together other enthusiasts and started a small club, meeting on Monday evenings at the Piccadilly Inn in Caerwys (locally referred to as “the Pic”) where Ian Candlish, the landlord, was very helpful and encouraging.

Terry Scott was a founder member - he lived in Caerwys and had played chess on and off for years.

Syd put up a notice about the club in the bar of the Piccadilly and this was seen by myself and others and I also joined at the start of things. I had previously played for Chester in the Chester & District (C&D) League for about 15 years before moving to Caerwys.

Early Development

Syd managed to gather together a keen group of youngsters and he was constantly on the phone to them and their parents to encourage them to attend. The club continued like this for some years – various publicity leaflets were distributed and one of these attracted Steve Williams and Dave Hardie both of whom worked at Delyn Press in Holywell (very useful later on for printing the C&D annual handbook) and both started to come regularly to the club from the late 1980s. Some of us well remember during this time playing lots of (probably) error filled games, whilst listening to Syd recounting – not for the first time ! – his wartime exploits in Cairo.

Sometime around 1989 the best player ever to join the club was with us for a rather brief time. This was Dieter Kaiser from Germany – where he played in the Bundasleiga - whose job had brought him to north Wales. I remember when I turned up at the Pic one Monday evening, someone behind the bar said to me (I thought) that Dieter wanted to learn chess. I sat down with him and lost 11 games out of 11 played that night. He was graded someway over 200 BCF and, understandably, left us after a while to play top board for Rhyl in division one of the C&D League.

However, in January 1993, the membership of the club was shocked when Syd Lillywhite died very suddenly. I well remember the extremely sombre evening we had at the Pic after we heard the news. Ever since then, the trophy for the annual club championship has been called the “Syd Lillywhite Cup”, in memory of the person who founded the club.

Steady Growth

In the early 90s, publicity events were organised at the Pic: Tony Roberts of the Ruthin club gave a simultaneous display for our members and GM Nigel Davies was engaged for an evening to give a talk to the club. From around this time Howard Roberts of Mold - a very attacking player - and Stan Gill of Holywell started attending regularly, also Ken Eldridge was with us for a couple of years and a bit later Richard Corney from Nant Glyn joined. [Richard in particular was a strong player – he used to like to play the Dutch Defence against 1.d4, but in this black often has trouble activating his QB. Richard’s solution was to manoeuvre it out onto the kingside, by Bc8 – d7 – e8 – h5! This happened so often we called it the ‘Corney Bishop’].

I also remember various club “away-days”, not least those arranged to see games in Kasparov’s World Championship matches in London. Steve, Terry and myself went to see Kasparov’s match against Nigel Short at the Savoy Theatre in 1993 (drawn game with four knights in the middle of the board) and then, later on, Liam came as well to view his match against Kramnik in 2000 at the Riverside Studios (the dramatic tenth game – Kasparov’s disastrous Nimzo-Indian Defence).

League / County Competition

Early in 1994, I arranged various “friendly” matches against clubs who were in the C&D League (I think matches were played against Rhyl and Mold) and the results of these showed that the Pic would be well capable of holding its own in the League if we wished to enter. Members did indeed vote to enter a team in the C&D League and in September 1994 we started in the fourth division as the Piccadilly Chess Club. We needed to organise the club on a rather more formal footing – I was elected captain, Terry became the treasurer and Steve was the secretary. In the event we had an exceptionally successful first season, winning the division with 12 points from 14 matches and gained immediate promotion to division three. By now Jane was the landlady at the pub – she was just as accommodating as Ian had been previously – I’m sure I remember platters of free chips on some home match nights!

With a team picked from the following (all ECF grades approximate): Richard (140), Max (120), Howard (110), Terry (100), Steve (90), Stan (90), Dave (80) and Ken (80), division three seemed to be a good hunting ground for us. Additionally, Oke Ebizie (105) joined us in about 1996. As well as league matches we continued with the club tournament and also held various handicap and quickplay competitions. We also played in the League Handicap Knock-Out (matches over six boards) which sometimes pitted us against division one teams and players. Normally of course the higher graded player will win, but not always! I remember in one of these matches Richard on top board beating Tony Roberts (180) playing for Ruthin, with the ‘Corney Bishop’ playing a prominent role.

In 1996/7 we came second in division three and, because (for some forgotten reason) two teams went up that year, we found ourselves in division two in 1997/8. On the whole we managed to keep our heads above water, though the games were tougher, not just because the opposition was stronger, but because both Richard and Dave were coming to the club less frequently.

In these years we also played six board matches in the Cheshire Plate Under 125 competition and my notes indicate we got to the final in 1997 against Grappenhall, a junior club near Warrington. We drew the match 3 – 3, but lost on board count ! We also played for some years in the Team Rapidplay Competition at Ruthin – coming second in 1998 with Oke achieving a superb score of 5.5 out of 6.

Change of Name and Venue

Unfortunately, in, I think 1998, a fire in the Piccadilly made it impossible for us to continue there – at least until it was restored. For some months we met at the Pwll Gwyn Hotel, near Afonwen on the Mold – Denbigh road. This was not bad, but, with no separate room, it could be rather noisy for matches. I remember after a member of an opposing team had lost a game, he stated: “It’s so noisy here it’s like an ale-house” to which the reply was made: “That’s because it is an alehouse!”

We hoped to return to the Pic for the start of the 1999 season, but it was under new management, “our” room was full up with a pool table and jukeboxes and it was clear we had to move elsewhere. More of the membership was now from the Holywell area (James Jones had joined by then and Dewi Jones was with us for a bit), interest from local Caerwys juniors had tailed off, so the decision was taken to move to Holywell and change the name of the club to the Holywell Chess Club.

For the 1999/2000 season we were at the Springfield Hotel near Holywell. Some of the rooms we played in there were alright, but, if these were needed for something else, we had to play in a large, unheated and poorly lit area, which wasn’t ideal. I remember, during one home league match, some players from the other club putting on gloves and others complaining that they couldn’t make a move because their fingers wouldn’t work!

In the event, things resolved themselves quite quickly when the Springfield went into receivership. However, I think it was Steve who went to collect our chess equipment and had some difficulty in persuading the receivers that all the clocks, boards, pieces and so on were our property rather than the hotel’s.

For the start of the following season in 2000, we found a really good venue at the Stamford Gate Hotel, a bit closer to the centre of Holywell, where we mostly played in a separate well lit and well heated room to the left of the bar area. I think it was here that we began the tradition of Club Christmas Dinners which continues to this day.

Also, around this time, some of our players began organising a chess class at a local school in Holywell – Ysgol y Fron. Many of the children there were very enthusiastic, albeit noisy and exuberant, and quickly improved. In particular Steve, James and myself were at this school around I think mid-day on Tuesdays for an hour or so in term time for quite a few years. Matches were arranged against other schools and a few of the better school players came to club meetings at the Stamford Gate – Bryn Jones was probably the best of these. However, when some keen pupils left and we found the time involved at the school more and more committal this scheme came to an end.

By 2000, Richard, Howard, Dave, Stan and Oke had largely stopped coming so we were becoming somewhat short of players. Luckily it was around then that two good players who had mostly played for Mold in the past remained as members of that club to play in the Wirral League, but began to play for us in the C&D. Haydn Parry was a strong and experienced player with a grade around 150 and Liam Jefferies, now living by Holywell, was improving fast. Haydn became captain from 2001 taking over from myself. Additionally, a couple of players from Rhyl, Chris Grier and Phil Crew joined us for several seasons in the early 2000s and Phil took over as treasurer from Terry.

Unfortunately in 2002 we had to leave the Stamford Gate, but we found a suitable alternative at the Glan-yr-Afon pub in Dolphin just above Holywell, where we either played in the separate Estuary Bar or a snug by the main bar area. Pepe the landlord was extremely friendly and helpful.

During this time we continued with the Club Championship, either played as an all-play-all competition (each player playing every other player either once, or twice with both black and white), or, depending on numbers, split into two sections with the winners of each section competing in the final. In some of the early years we had a junior section and in some years we have had a ‘B’ tournament for members under an agreed grade. During these seasons we had a settled league team in division two, typically: Haydn (140), Max (125), Liam (120), Steve (115), Terry (100) and we largely held our own, normally ending up somewhere in the middle of the division.

From about 2004 Haydn wasn’t available so often (and James had previously stopped coming) and Liam took over as captain from him, but by 2006 Haydn was back “full-time” with his wife Sue and, after a while, Sue’s brother Mike Vidler. Mike was an outstanding player and analyst, graded around 180, who obviously strengthened our team considerably.

The Glory Years

In 2005, Liam was elected to be C&D League Competition Controller, a post he held with distinction until 2012. Furthermore he took over as League Handbook Secretary from Haydn (who had held this position for three years) in I think 2008, for the next four seasons.

As mentioned, during our years in the League, Holywell had always taken part in the C&D Handicap Knock-Out Competition, but, despite the handicap advantage for lower division teams, there seemed to be an inevitability that this was won each season by one of the top division one teams/clubs – very often Wrexham or Chester. However, by the 2006/07 season we were still in division two, but we now had a strong team for this division. With a six board Knock-Out team such as: Mike (175), Haydn (140), Liam (125), Max (120), Howard (115) & Steve or Terry (110) … we were pretty much a match for anyone and we managed to win this competition in successive seasons, 2006/7 and 2007/8. I remember some of these matches being very exciting and also remember some players getting a bit over excited!

These really were our “glory years” - at the end of the 2007/8 season we finished third in division two, but with the two teams above us (Chester 3 and Capenhurst) refusing promotion we were happy to accept! The following season in division one we certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves with 2 wins, 2 draws and 8 losses giving us 3 points - well above Chester 2 who were bottom with only 0.5 points. At the 2008 AGM Liam stood down as captain and Steve agreed to take over (in addition to continuing as secretary) and I think it was then I became the treasurer.

By the following 2009/10 season however, Mike and Haydn weren’t playing so much and although Howard was back with us for a bit and we still had a reasonable team – typically – Max (140), Howard (135), Liam (130), Steve (125) and Terry (120) … we had difficulty in competing with the best in the League. We came bottom of division one, but won one match – unfortunately I cannot remember over whom. Mike Vidler left us for good in 2010, but by then we had been joined by Barrie Hird from Mold, who, being ungraded slotted in well on board five and went on to win almost all his league games! Mike Woods, from Flint and then Rhyl, joined a bit later and for a few years was a very useful extra player to call on. Unfortunately, in 2011, the Glan-yr-Afon closed down for a time – more retrieval of chess equipment. We managed to find an alternative venue, the Rock Inn at Lloc, but it wasn’t that satisfactory if only because it also seemed to be perpetually on the brink of closing. Nevertheless, in this sseason two new players arrived: Dewi Jones of Holywell re-joined and Richard Drew from Trelogan became a member. Dewi had previously organised a chess club in Flint and both he and Richard were really enthusiastic additions to the club. Furthermore, hot on their heels the following year, Owain Meurig from Oakenholt and Brian Jones from Queensferry joined us, plus Dewi encouraged Catherine Davies to join.

Almost inevitably, sometime towards the end of the 2011/12 season the Rock did indeed close and we had to move – and quickly … we had a home match that evening and found out about the closure in the afternoon. In the event, the management of the Stamford Gate (Matt in particular) were very helpful to us and we were happy to move back to this excellent venue. At our AGM at the end of that season Steve stood down as captain (remaining as secretary), I was voted in as captain again and Dewi became treasurer. During these years we had a reasonably good team – Howard had left us, but Liam had improved a lot and was a very solid board one. With a team like: Liam (145), Max (140), Steve (135), Terry (115) & Dewi (110), we more than held our own in division two.

It was around this time that we started the tradition of the pre-Christmas Handicap Rapidplay Tournament - in which the better the player, the less time (and in some cases less pieces) he or she has for each game. This helps to even out differences in playing strength and makes for a fun evening. Steve Williams does a great job in organising this each year.

Recent Years

At our 2013 AGM, Dewi proposed that we enter a second team into the League – the Holywell Knights - to play in division three with matches over four boards. Everyone was in favour of this ambitious step and this new team started in the 2013/14 season with Dewi as captain. To spread the workload, Brian agreed to be the treasurer in his place. Also in 2013, at the C&D AGM, I was elected to be C&D League President, a position from which – so far – I haven’t been sacked!

In early September 2013, before the start of the season, we arranged for Richard Dineley – probably the best player in the League – to give a simultaneous display (free of charge) as a promotional feature in the centre of Holywell. The idea was to hold the simul on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the High Street (where the paving stones sort of mimic a chess board) with tables set up and Richard walking around in a circle of twenty or thirty boards with participants sitting around the outside. It was very helpful to do with the arrangements and publicity that Dewi was a local councillor. We anticipated that anyone with any interest in chess in Holywell would be bound to be attracted to this and could be enrolled into the club. In the event, most unfortunately, it was windy and wet on that Saturday, but we moved everything into the Old Vaults pub and the simul took place there. Players from Rhyl turned up and brought equipment and some new players appeared.

The Knights had an excellent start coming a close second in their first season with 11 points from 14 matches. Dewi (115) had a good pool of players to call on, including Terry (110), Owain (105), Richard (95), Brian (75) and Catherine (50). Barrie continued to come to club meetings, but only played in League matches if we were likely to be a player short – a sort of ‘super-sub’ (plus he came within a whisker of winning the Club Championship in 2013). Richard took over the captaincy of the Knights at the start of the 2014/15 season – Dewi was working further afield and having to drive a lot, plus, as North Wales Grading Officer for the Welsh Chess Union, keeping the “live” grading list up to date was taking up more of his time.

In 2014, Jon Maybery of Mostyn (and then Flint) joined the club. Jon had played for Chester in the past and is a BCF accredited junior chess coach and tournament organiser. Jon started tutoring young players at the Stamford Gate before our normal club meetings on Mondays. The first of these was Sithi Medagedara and both Sithi and his mother Sandi subsequently joined the club. Additionally, at the 2015 C&D AGM, Jon was elected to be the League Individual Competition Controller in charge of this four round weekend competition every Autumn. Most importantly, Jon established this website in 2015 and it’s via this medium that new players have recently been attracted to the club.

Before the start of the 2015/16 season Liam made it clear he wanted a sabbatical from competitive chess (although he remains in the club as our Christmas Dinner organiser!) which of course weakened our first team. However, both Dewi and Owain had improved significantly, so our division two team currently looks something like: Dewi (130), Max (130), Steve (130), Owain (115) and either Terry or Jon (105) and we seem to be doing alright.

Club Champions

As a matter of record, the winners of the club championship for the Syd Lillywhite trophy are listed below. I think it’s fair to say that these were not necessarily the strongest players in the club at that time, but rather were amongst the ones who were prepared to allocate the time to play in the competition:

1992/3 Max Coventry
1993/4 Richard Corney
1994/5 Max Coventry
1995/6 Howard Roberts
1996/7 Howard Roberts
1997/8 Howard Roberts
1998/9 Max Coventry
1999/0 Max Coventry
2000/1 Haydn Parry
2001/2 Chris Grier & Haydn Parry
2002/3 Max Coventry
2003/4 Max Coventry
2004/5 Steve Williams & Haydn Parry
2005/6 Liam Jefferies
2006/7 Haydn Parry
2007/8 Haydn Parry
2008/9 Max Coventry
2009/1 Howard Roberts
2010/1 Liam Jefferies
2011/2 Steve Williams & Liam Jefferies
2012/3 Max Coventry
2013/4 Steve Williams
2014/5 Liam Jefferies
2015/6 Max Coventry
2016/7 Haydn Parry

Max Coventry
October 2016